Need a simple and effective way to get your life under control? Try the “one-minute rule.”

I’ve realized that I’ve been backsliding on my “one-minute rule.”

This is an incredibly easy, incredibly effective rule—but it must be followed consistently if I want to see results. And it does take work.

It’s very simple: I must do any task that can be finished in one minute. Hang up my coat, read a letter and toss it, fill in a form, answer an email, note down a citation, pick up my phone messages, file a paper, put a dish in the dishwasher, replenish the diaper supply by the changing table, put the magazines away…and so on.

Because the tasks are so quick, it isn’t too hard to make myself follow the rule—but it has big results. Keeping all those small, nagging tasks under control makes me more serene, less overwhelmed.

When people ask me for happiness rules or tips, I often suggest the “one-minute rule,” because it’s very easy to implement. Several people have made a point of telling me how helpful they have found it.

One friend told me that her apartment went from being a wreck to being quite tidy, without much effort on her part. Another friend said that his productivity had shot up; because he got so many little things got done quickly, he had much more time for the bigger tasks.

One nice thing about the “one-minute rule” is that I don’t have to think about priorities. When I stop to think, “Should I tidy up the playroom or pay bills?” or “Should I answer emails or run my computer back-up program?” I sometimes end up feeling that whatever I’m doing is the wrong thing.

But with the “one-minute rule,” I do anything that presents itself, right away, as long as I can do it in a minute.

I can’t resist taking the opportunity to spread the word about a great new book just published by a friend of mine: Melissa Kirsch’s The Girl’s Guide to Absolutely Everything. It’s hilarious, profound, and useful–and there aren’t many books that can satisfy all of those three adjectives.

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  • This is a great tip that I have recently started exercising more often and I have already seen positive results in the way that I FEEL.
    After listening to a conference call about Feng Shui, although I have not yet remodeled my entire house, I have started to remove some of the clutter and it’s amazing how much something that costs so little time can really help you to feel more organized.
    Also, an added bonus to the 1-minute rule is that it starts to build up your confidence that you CAN get things done. You start to believe that it’s really possible to eventually get to the bottom of your to-do list as you have several “success moments” each day after your 1-minute rule activities.
    Great idea, Gretchen!

  • What a great rule! I definitely need to make it a part of my daily routine. I tend to put away those small pesky chores thinking that they take time away from more important projects. Inevitably, however, things pile up and begin affecting my mood to the point that I have to take much more time from those projects to clear up the mess.
    Thank you for a great tip!

  • kris

    if we backslide on the one-minute rule, we can
    call for backup and do a five-minute cleanup.
    everyone in the house takes charge of a room and puts away objects and clears random clutter for five minutes.
    for the five-minute cleanup, we do one room at a time, so when the five minutes are up, at the end we have at least one room organized.

  • You should read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. The book is based on many years of research on how to be tidy and effective and how not to forget tasks and make projects move forward with a simple and well thought out system.
    He advises that anythings that takes less than two minutes should be done there and then.
    Check out the book, or do a search for GTD on Google, there are a large number of blogs and sites dedicated to the practice 🙂

  • Yes, stick with this rule, and the results are astounding. Thanks for the recommendation of Getting Things Done — I’m off to Amazon right now.
    It’s interesting–I’ve noticed that the academic work on happiness never mentions the effects of physical environment, except very indirectly, such as “sense of control.” But in real life, BOY, clutter really can affect your happiness.

  • Shoot! I just looked at the Amazon description of Getting Things Done, and apparently Allen recommends the “Two Minute Rule.” Aargh. I came up with this myself, and thought I was being so ingenious. Oh well. Whoever came up with it, it works.

  • A friend of mine has a similar rule for getting himself “unstuck” such as when the next appropriate action is unclear.
    Do 100 things. A thing can be “pick up that sock” or “clean the sink”. But just stop everything and do 100 things, count them out loud.

  • ooh, I’d thought you were a GTD adherent already. Definitely definitely definitely pick that up. Plus hit the web for GTD, you’ll find an incredible amount of resources about personal productivity.

  • Gretchen, when I speak, I tell my audiences to do this very thing. I call it using “tiny time”. You can get a LOT of stuff done if you realize that a minute or two is plenty of time for certain tasks, and then acting on those small tasks keeps you caught up.

  • Gretchen, unless I’m reading you (or David Allen) wrong, your one-minute rule is actually somewhat different from the GTD two-minute rule. The two-minute rule is used while processing an inbox. It isn’t necessarily used at any other time. If you’re deeply involved in some other task then it makes sense just to drop the thing into an inbox, even if it would only take two minutes to do, and deal with it when you come to process that inbox.
    Here’s an example that I often experience: I’m a programmer. While I’m writing one bit of code I’ll have an idea about some other bit of it. Even though going and doing that other bit would only take a minute, it would cause me to forget about the bit I’m currently working on. So I’ll quickly write a note to myself in an “inbox” (really it’s just a text file that I always have open for those random ideas) and then later on I’ll go through and process those ideas using the two-minute rule. If I were following your one-minute rule then I’d be trying to deal with each of those ideas as they came up.
    I say this just because I think the differences are interesting as well as the similarities. I certainly don’t intend to get into a pedantic discussion of the One True GTD Way, nor to argue about which technique is better or worse.
    (Also, I’ll add that I can’t recommend GTD highly enough. I’ve been using the GTD system for a couple of years now and it’s had an enormous effect on my life.)

  • ali justali

    I must be doing it wrong. “I do anything that presents itself… as long as I can do it in a minute” Yep. That’s what I say, “I’ll do it, in a minute…”